When Mike and I (and two kids) moved to St. Louis to go to seminary we lived in an apartment building with six apartments. It was the kind of apartment building with an entry door to an atrium with private entrances inside. There were two apartments on either side of the main door and a pair of staircases. One staircase went up and the other one went down. There were two apartments on each level. We lived on the entry level just to the left of the main door. Apartment C. We were sandwiched between A and E.
While we were unpacking, our windows were open to let in the hot-but-fresh air. Our eldest child was two, and he would rest his chin on the window sill and look down at the patio of the folks below us and watch the children playing out of doors.
There was laughter and shouting as kids ran through the sprinkler. Other folks would walk by on the sidewalk alongside our apartment and our neighbors would issue a general invitation to come and play – saying something like, “Y’all come on down here! Tell everyone we have the sprinkler out.” Occasionally someone would return in swimsuits and their kids would start squealing and running though the water, too.
Our little boy would never presume we could go down to the impromptu sprinkler party. But one day, one of the downstairs kids looked up and saw a tiny face watching them play. They were coloring with sidewalk chalk this time, and the little girl was drawing the building. She looked up to count windows when she saw a little boy’s tiny face resting on the window sill, peering down at the fun below.
“Hi! What’s your name?”
No answer. Maybe he thought she was looking to the heavens in prayer…
“Hell-o there! Do you see me? I’m looking at your face in the window. What’s your name? Little boy? Who are you?”
And with that his face disappeared from the window so he could find me to see if he was supposed to answer. With a little prompting he went back to the window and replied, “Hi. I’m Micah.”
“Hi, Micah! Do you want to come play chalk with us?”
And then it began… playing with our neighbors, opening our lives, and understanding we were welcome to accept the “general invitation” to do life together. Some of our closest relationships came from this time in our lives.
Invitations came to join a group of moms driving to the Super Wal-Mart on a Saturday night or to go apple picking or to the carousel. We were invited to gather the toddlers too young for VBS to attend TBS (Toddler Bible School) during the week their older siblings were sharing adventures in far off lands. We had invitations to the zoo, to church, to farms, to swimming pools, to exchange child care, to distribute free eggs, to birthday parties, to church retreats, and to scrapbooking nights. We grew in love for others as we did life together, and it all began with a personal invitation.
So did my walk with Christ. God knew my name, touched my heart, and invited me personally to walk with him. It was a personal invitation.
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. — Isaiah 43:1
There is something special about being personally invited – whether it is into relationship with God or to the church picnic.
There are people who walk alongside me every day in life, who hear the same invitations I hear, but don’t think it is really for them.
I had this experience recently. I invited a woman in our church to attend a women’s event with me. She was visibly pleased at being included – and by her own confession – never would’ve attended if she had not been personally invited. Even though the invitation in the bulletin, the announcements in church, invitations via email and printed in the newsletter, all made it clear it was open to all women inside and outside of our church, she did not feel the invitation was for her.
There are people all around us who need a personal invitation to join the walking group in the neighborhood, to attend church, to know Christ. Maybe hearing “For God so loved the world…” doesn’t always sound like, “For God so loved YOU….”
Maybe we need to look up and see the faces who are watching us live and say, “Hell-o there! Do you see me? I’m looking at your face with eyes that love you! You there! I want to know you. Won’t you come do life with me?”